The US President’s Emergency Fund for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) is an initiative by the US government to help improve the lives of those suffering from HIV/AIDS around the world. It represents the largest commitment by any government to combat a single disease.
Sitting alongside some US Embassy staff, Margaret stops weaving her basket and says: “I have come to be comfortable with my condition. It’s OK now. Just like everyone here. I am happy thanks to hospice.”
Margaret has lost two husbands to HIV/AIDS and is HIV positive herself. She explains that after losing her second husband she felt incredibly low: “In 2010 when my second husband died, it kept bringing back such bad memories. I had such a difficult time. But then hospice counselled me. They helped me when I was at my lowest.”
Resting on deckchairs, on mattresses or on the floor, two dozen US Embassy staff sit talking with patients, volunteers and staff from Hospice Africa Uganda (HAU). The powerful stories told by patients like Margaret interweave seamlessly into the conversation.
This mixed group are meeting at HAU today as part of the celebrations for PEPFAR, the US President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief programme, 10 year anniversary of working in Uganda. The talk between the US Embassy staff and patients breaks only to allow people to take part in the tree planting activities planned for the day or to join in games with the handful of children who attend the hospice and who are running riot in the gardens.
Daniel Travis, the Public Affairs Officer at the US Embassy, commented on the reasons for holding the event, saying: “It is important to remember why we are here, why PEPFAR is here. We are here for the patients and for those who support the patients – often volunteers.”
He continued: “Over half of the jobs at the US Embassy in Uganda are through PEPFAR. Each year $320 million comes to Uganda because of the programme and palliative care is a big part of this.”
Over 20 embassy employees, including many Ugandans, volunteered for the day to meet patients, hospice staff and volunteers.
HAU’s Chief Executive, Zena Bernacca, welcomed the visit. She said: “It is really great to have the staff from the US Embassy here volunteering with the patients. At the heart of a lot of hospice’s work are volunteers, so it is great that we can celebrate the important role that they play, along with our global partners.”
The crowd starts to gather around another tree that is to be planted in the hospice’s garden as Margaret leans back on her mattress and says: “My mother also now has cancer. She can’t walk but because of hospice and these people she now has hope.”
Sitting just behind Margaret, an Embassy staff member glances around and raises a half smile. She comments: “It is good to get us out of the office to remind us why we do the work we do”.
Visit the Africa edition of ehospice to view a photo gallery of the event.